Successful researchers rarely tend to work in isolation

Liz Halcomb examines the attibutes of successful researchers and the value of teamwork

Research team
Picture: iStock

The topic of what makes a research student successful often comes up in conversations with academics. Research can be perceived as a mystical activity that can only be accomplished by the most intelligent. Attributes such as critical thinking and communication skills are identified as being the most important qualities. While these attributes have a place in a research student’s success, I would argue that successful researchers require tenacity, persistence and determination. 

Far from being a mystical activity, research is a complex process comprised of various stages requiring a range of skills. Researchers need to be flexible in their approach and be willing and able to adapt to changes in circumstances. Successful researchers also need to overcome obstacles and bounce back from adversity.

Researchers will encounter challenges in a variety of ways throughout the research journey, in recruiting participants in complex circumstances, the complicated collection of data, or rejection when submitting papers for publication. It is inevitable that these challenges will dent researchers’ confidence. The difference between success and disaster is how these challenges are dealt with. 

Success or disaster?

Disaster can ensue if the researcher is crippled by a perceived need for perfection or if alternatives cannot be identified and employed. On the other hand, the successful researcher will seek alternatives such as changing recruitment tacks, simplifying data collection processes or resubmitting a revised paper to a different journal. 

Dealing with challenges shouldn’t be the responsibility of the research student alone; supervisors, peers and critical friends have an important role in providing support. Be it a listening ear, critical friend or someone to share chocolate with, the value of these supporters shouldn’t be underestimated. 

As well as being tenacious, persistent, and determined, successful researchers rarely work in isolation. They seek out and engage in active student groups or research teams to share the journey.